One of my friends is another JET in my town. Where I’m an ALT, he is a CIR – coordinator for international relations. What this is, is a fancy title for discreetly reading Yahoo! News stories all day long. They do occasionally make him do stuff to justify that paycheck he’s getting from Japanese Uncle Samu. When possible, he likes to drag me along, sometimes I guess because I’ve been here a year longer than he has and he considers my seasoned experience a valued asset, and other times because, I can only guess, he hates my mortal soul to the core and wants to make me suffer as much as humanly possible.
One such time was a program at the welfare center to do Obon dancing for the elderly. I was not opposed to this for a number of reasons. The biggest and most important was that it would get me out of a whole week of afternoon classes at the Ghetto School. I would do anything to get out of class at the Ghetto School. I would sign up for a “Throw 20 Pound Medicine Balls Doused in Jet Fuel and Lit on Fire at the Gaijin’s Exposed Genitals” festival if it meant getting out of class at the Ghetto School. Yes, it is that bad.
Aside from wanting to get away from evil little children, I thought it would be interesting to get to interact with some of the elderly members of the community. As they were around during World War II, they’ve seen Japan go through A LOT of changes. I was sure they would have some interesting stories to tell, and if not, at the very least give them the chance to interact with a foreigner, something that’s hard enough for your average Japanese person.
So one week, me and my friend headed out to the welfare center. On Monday, I ditched The Ghetto, met up with my friend at the town office, and we were picked up by car by one of the welfare center workers. A girl maybe in her late 20’s, I thought she was really cute in a dorky kind of way (I like the dorky look, so sue me). However, as she got out of the car, I saw that not only did some other guy have the same thought, he beat me to it by 8 or 9 months.
Friend: Still think she’s cute?
Me: C’mon, do you really think I’m going to let something as trivial as an almost-fully developed human child stop me?
Friend: Man, you’re awful.
Me: What? When you get married one day and your wife is pregnant, are you really going to abstain from sex for a whole nine months?
Friend: I dunno man. Like, what if you poke the baby in the eye?
Me: Give him an eye-patch and name him Sagat?
We got in the car with Dorky Pregnant and off to the welfare center we went.
Upon arriving, we met the other staff members, most of whom were somewhat less dorky and markedly less pregnant. They thanked us for coming, and told us that since this was traditional and all, the staff was going to be wearing kimono. They didn’t have kimono for us, however they did manage to find some costume festival jackets and yukata for us. They asked if we wouldn’t mind wearing them. Now, I have no objections to the festival jackets at all, in fact they’re kind of cool. My friend however, perhaps wanting to get revenge on me for the whole Dorky Pregnant conversation, decides he’s really going to make me suffer.
Friend: Hey, don’t you have a Matsuken Samba costume you used at the schools?
Me: (under my breath, in English): Shut up. Shut the fuck up…
Staff: What’s that? Matsuken Samba?
Friend: Yeah, he’s got one he used at the schools. I was just thinking, maybe the folks here would get a real kick out of it.
Staff: I think they would! That’s a great idea.
Me: (English): Great, thanks. When your pregnant wife is lusting and lonely I’m gonna go poke your kid’s eye out.
I do realize that “Matsuken Samba” needs further explanation.
One of the things they warn us new incoming ALT’s is that we’ll need a self-introduction for the students. And not anything normal, like “Hi, how are you?”, but something designed to keep the attention spans of 30 Japanese kids focused on you for 50 minutes. My idea was to don a red cape, and become an English teaching superhero. Lame, yes, but it worked very well.
One year and eleventy bajillion superhero introductions later, I no longer wanted to don my Superman mantle. The job of a teacher is one of repetition, and I was more than tired of it. So I needed a new self-intro, and I wanted something that would out-do the cape. Something flashy, something with pizazz. Enter Matsuken.
Around this time, a guy named Ken Matsudaira blew up in popularity thanks to his hit song Matsuken Samba II (yes, there is a Matsuken Samba I, and even subsequently, a Matsuken Samba III). The song is really nothing special – a somewhat catchy tune with maybe 4 or 5 lines of lyrics interspersed within and some dance moves to go with it – perhaps the Japanese version of the Macarena. Part of what helped the act to sell was Matsuken’s look – a shiny, glam gold kimono, complete with a hairstyle done up in the feudal style – shaved across the top, with a single lock of hair placed upon the meat. Of course, Matsuken costumes became a hot commodity, great tools to liven up any office party, wedding, funeral, or traditional bris.
I’d given some thought to donning the Matsuken gold kimono, but I wasn’t too serious about it. After all, it was quite a jump from the red cape, and very flashy. However, I did make the mistake of randomly mentioning it in passing to Ms. Americanized.
Her: So, are you gonna do the superhero thing again this year?
Me: No, I can’t. I don’t have it in me anymore.
Her: Understandable. So then, do you have any ideas?
Me: Well, just one. I was thinking maybe Matsuken.
Her: (thinks about it for exactly one second, then starts laughing uncontrollably)
Her: Oh God, I was just picturing you in the kimono and wig and all. But that’s really just a dream, you’d never actually go through with it.
Me: Says who?
Her: I’ve known you to do some crazy things, but this … no fucking way.
Me: I could do it.
Her: I so don’t believe you.
Me: I totally would do it.
Her: I dare you. I double-dog-dare-you.
Me: Goddamnit, now I have to do it. Where’d you learn “double-dog-dare” anyway?
Her: The British ex-boyfriend.
Me: Same one who introduced you to South Park?
Her: That’s the one.
Me: There ya go.
So I bought the Matsuken Samba kimono, wig, and cheap plastic microphone to boot. And despite all the reservations in the world, I actually took it to school and used it. It was an interesting experience to say the least. In the process, I learned a couple of things.
1. Big black guys wearing samurai wigs and dancing around in shiny gold kimonos is really only funny for the first minute or so.
2. It’s far, far more embarrassing than I anticipated.
3. Shiny gold kimonos and samurai wigs are really fucking hot.
4. Don’t trust Ms. Americanized.*
*I later learned that part of why she laughed so hard, was that she knew I’d be doing my self-intro during the same week the Ghetto School would be having open house. She conveniently failed to mention this to me. Imagine my surprise as I turn the corner and find a hallway full of parents, now dumbstruck over why there is a large black man in a glittering gold Matsuken Samba kimono standing in the hallway.
After my last self-intro that year, I’d really hoped to retire the Matsuken outfit into the Hall of Shame, to join such memorable hits like Treasure Trolls, fanny packs, pogs, hot pants, and anything with Alf’s face on it, never to see the light of day again. Thanks to my friend though, it would seem that Matsuken still had some life left in him. I tried explaining that it was above normal levels of embarrassing, and super-hot to boot, but my friend countered with “C’mon man, these guys are old, they might die soon. If they have to come here for daytime entertainment, then obviously their families have long since left them behind. This might be the last, greatest, most shining moment in their lives before they die. Do you really want to take away that happiness from them?” He said it in Japanese too, to which all the welfare center staff nodded their heads and said “Yes, that’s true”, so then I was really fucked. I pretty much didn’t have a choice.
After a quick trip back home for me to grab my garb (during which, through small talk I was able to learn that Dorky Pregnant is thoroughly un-interesting), I came back, donned the shiny gold kimono, and danced my little heart out once more. Maybe my friend was right – perhaps this was the least I could do for them. If I could get them to smile, even enjoy the day even that much more, then no matter how hot or how embarrassing the whole thing was, it’d be worth it, right? After all, I only had to do it one more time.
Or, so I thought.
After finishing the Matsuken routine, I prepared to burn the costume to prevent this from ever happening again. However, the welfare center staff had other plans for me. “You can leave the costume here if you like” they said to me. Well sure, I guess if one of you guys wants to put it on and dance around in it, by ALL means be my guest. Of course, life isn’t that easy. “Oh, didn’t you know? We have to do the same program every day this week. So, if you could use the costume all this week, that would be really great…”
Tuesday at the Ghetto School, before I was to make my afternoon getaway Ms. Americanized asked me about how things went at the welfare center.
Me: Well…ah…that bastard friend of mine, he told them I had a Matsuken costume, and they suckered me into wearing it.
Her: (again, short pause into uncontrollable laughter)
Me: Yeah, yeah, yuk it up.
Her: Let me get this straight. So now, to all the children and elderly of this town, their impression of you is you dancing around in a shiny gold kimono wearing a samurai wig and badly singing a samba?
Me: Really puts those 5 years of university in perspective, doesn’t it?
Her: You know what the funny thing is though? Despite all the stuff you’ve accomplished here in your three years, this is what you’re going to be remembered for.
Me: Well, I guess it could have been worse. At least I didn’t decide to dress up as Hard Gay.
Her: (face lights up in excitement) Oh my GOD, I double-dog-
Me: No. Finish that sentence, and I will hurt you.